19 February 2013

MOZAMBIQUE : A Maputo test

SHEFFIELD (Júlio Chitunda’s African Message) - Mozambique's men’s team is under serious scrutiny this week.
If they are to keep their run of regular appearances at the Afrobasket, they need to pass this week’s Africa zone 6 qualifier test in the country’s capital city of Maputo.
The seven-day tournament began on Sunday and runs through until Saturday 23 February.
In the same period, Maputo will host the women’s qualifier, although Mozambique women’s team is not taking part as they will host the 2013 Afrobasket in September.
Theoretically, Mozambique's men are favourite to win the tournament, but the rapid rising Zambia could certainly cause hitches along the way.
Mozambique’s opposition includes Zimbabwe and Botswana, two teams eager to make their first appearance in Africa’s flagship tournament in three decades.
It is not clear whether Mozambique's traditional regional rival of South Africa are taking part in the tournament, although Mozambique’s head coach Milagre Macome rates it as a serious threat.
"South Africa has caused us some troubles in the past, but any of these teams have improved in the recent years," he said.
Mozambique men’s team has not missed an Afrobasket since 1997, although they register a modest record in the tournament's history, which does not mean that the likes of Fernando Mandlate, Custodio Muchate and Octavio Magolico are not capable of doing better.
In fact, David Canivete and Augusto Matos represent the new generation of players tasked with turning things around. Although both first joined the men’s team at the 2009 Afrobasket, they became household names of the national team in recent years.
However, there is no evidence that the fact that most members of the national team ply their trade in the national league is the cause for their modest historic record.
What is evident, though, is a recurrent height problem.
At the 2011 16-team Afrobasket held in Madagascar, Mozambique’s men's team had an average height of 1.92m. Only Madagascar (1.89m) were shorter than them. Senegal (2.00m) were by far the tallest team.
"We have to think that it won’t be an easy tournament, and we won’t win easily," said coach Macome.
He recognised that they will have to work "very hard work and keep focused on the game".
"So we need to improve our counter-attack and three-point shooting. That’s how we’ll take on our opponents," he pointed out.
Although this week's tournament is for Africa zone 6, Seychelles, a zone 7 contender, are taking part for alleged administrative reasons.
The winner of this tournament secures direct qualification to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the site of this summer’s Afrobasket. Two other teams from other groups may receive wild cards to take part in the continental championship.
While Mozambique's men have something to prove, the country's women’s team rules the game, especially following their recent continental success.
They played at last summer's FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Turkey and, last October, national champions Grupo Desportivo de Maputo won the African Clubs Cup in Abidjan.
The women’s national team is currently 38th in the FIBA Women's Ranking (5th in Africa, but a serious candidate to win gold later this summer), while the men’s team ranks 65th in the world and 12th in Africa.
As for this week’s women’s event, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia are expected to battle for a place and return to Maputo in September when the 2013 Afrobasket for women kicks off.
This tournament is a challenge to see whether Mozambique men’s can chase their female counterpart.
Júlio Chitunda FIBA

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